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Authors: Haggai Carmon

The Chameleon Conspiracy

BOOK: The Chameleon Conspiracy
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To Ella, whom I loved even before she was born.


On this one-hundred-year anniversary of Ian Fleming’s birth, Dan Gordon may become the new James Bond, to rid us of post–Cold
War threats. Fleming’s novels have created an image of the successful intelligence officer, who saves the world equipped with
a Walther PPK and a martini shaken, not stirred. This tuxedo-clad hero seems to comprise the Empire’s entire intelligence
service. While both are masters at the game, Dan Gordon is closer to the reality I know. He is unarmed. He actually writes
reports and worries about receipts. He operates within a professional structure where approvals are necessary. While he is
mindful of the chain of command, Dan is an independent, self-sufficient, and smart risk taker. After discoursing on life in
the CIA to a group of high school students, I was asked, “Yes, but tell us about the time you were surrounded by a bunch of
bad guys all pointing their guns at you. How did you get away?” Dan Gordon understands that the essence of the profession
is to take all the necessary risks to get the job done without ever allowing yourself to be surrounded by those bad guys,
especially if they’re armed. What he shares with the Bond character is his intelligence, his tenaciousness, and his love of
good food, although Dan doesn’t insist on five-star cuisine. And, so far, Dan hasn’t run into the easy and beautiful women
of the Fleming tales. And, in my long CIA career, neither have I.

Khomeini’s 1979 overthrow of the Shah was the only successful religious revolution in modern times, helped by a confluence
of factors, not the least of which was President Carter’s pressure on a Shah dying of cancer to increase human rights.
More Iranians died at the hands of the new commissars than under the reviled SAVAK, the Iranian internal security service.
Driven by nationalist and theological ambitions, Iranian military expansion was blunted by the long and bloody Iran-Iraq War.
But its policies have not changed—only its tactics. Within easy reach of Iran’s Shehab III missiles, Israel is only too aware
of the threat. However, while the media focuses on Iran’s nuclear, missile, and satellite-launcher programs, the regime of
the mullahs has turned into a state mafia, a veritable criminal syndicate
sans frontières
. Under the radar, the Islamic Revolution’s storm troopers, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, is involved in terrorism
(according to the State Department), arms shipments and assassinations (according to the media), and illegal financial transactions
(according to the Department of the Treasury).

Haggai Carmon convinced me of his intelligence bona fides in the first minute I spoke with him. He writes convincingly about
the intricate world of intelligence. He understands the feeling of the intelligence officer’s solitary walk to the lesser-used
departure gates of international air terminals as he heads for nontouristic destinations. He brings to life the tension that
characterizes the work of the clandestine operator in a hostile environment, where the opposition is not just the police,
but the bloc
, or Iranian moral police, and a citizenry cowed into submission into reporting all “suspicious” activities.

The vivid descriptions in
The Chameleon Conspiracy
bring the reader inside the story. A Haggai Carmon story requires an alert reader. Each page reveals new layers that the
protagonist and the reader discover together. His use of suspense keeps the reader alert. Carmon succeeds in the first rule
of the suspense writer, to have the reader wonder,
What would I do in that situation?
and compelling him to turn the page to find out how the fictional protagonist did it and survived to the end of the story.
Whether he writes about Jaffa or Iran, it is like being there. And finally, as a longtime practitioner of clandestine tradecraft,
I take my hat off to Haggai. Not all real intelligence officers
have Dan Gordon’s savvy or imagination, the author’s gift to his brainchild.

Andre Le Gallo

Andre Le Gallo had a successful career with U.S. intelligence. As an operations officer with the CIA’s clandestine-operations
arm, he worked in collection, counterintelligence, and covert action, including special operations. His overseas assignments
total twenty years, eleven of them as chief of station in four countries. Serving for thirteen years at CIA headquarters,
he held senior positions in the Directorate of Operations, was the National Intelligence Officer for Counterterrorism (National
Intelligence Council), and was a senior DO representative in the Inspector General Corps. Andre Le Gallo is the author of
The Caliphate
, a thriller inspired by his long career as an intelligence operative.


Sydney, Australia, August 17, 2004

“I’m not Albert C. Ward III. My name is Herbert Goldman! There must be a mistake.” The man in the hospital bed was insistent.

I was amused.

“Look here,” he tried again, when he saw my knowing smile. “I’m a sick man. The doctors say I shouldn’t get overexcited. What
you’re doing to me is murder, you’re killing me!” Seeing that I wouldn’t budge, he rolled his eyes. He was dressed in a hospital
gown that bared his backside, and a feeding tube crawled under the top part. Looking at him, I almost felt sympathy. Albert
C. Ward III could have been any other patient in the ward: a slight, almost unnoticeable middle-aged man, lying there now
like a deflated balloon. But that was Ward’s greatest asset. Who’d be suspicious of a small man in his late forties, whose
few remaining teeth weren’t in such great shape? He had thinning hair that he combed sideways, applying the “savings and loan”
comb-over: saving on the side where it still grew, and loaning it to the side where hair was long gone.

We had just met for the first time, but I knew who I was dealing with. Right there in his hospital bed, he might have seemed
older than his years, and he might have seemed humble. Albert C. Ward III
humble; he wouldn’t confront or cross you on anything, unless you were an investor or a banker sitting on some money, while
he was thirsty for cash. The problem was that he was always thirsty. To quench that thirst, Ward would become a human chameleon
and change from nobody to somebody in a heartbeat—a sneaky little devil, who’d siphon money from banks and walk silently
away while the banks collapsed
into the receiving hands of federal regulators for being under-capitalized, while investors lamented the loss of their uninsured
savings, and while American taxpayers picked up most of the bill. Yes, that was Ward’s expertise. He was a banker for a new
era: he banked on people’s foolishness and greed. A con artist of epic proportions.

Ward was the only patient in a small room at the internal-medicine department of Macquarie Street Hospital in Sydney, Australia.
It was a public hospital in the city center, not far from my hotel. Ward could have been mistaken for the man behind the counter
at the post office…the refrigerator repairman, maybe. But that’s not entirely fair to say. Those good people never made
history. Albert C. Ward III did.

One detail set Ward apart from the other patients in the hospital: a uniformed Australian policeman sat beside him, making
sure that Ward wouldn’t vanish again. Ward lay there in a simple metal-frame hospital bed, its white paint chipping around
the edges. The room was clean, almost sterile, but no one would linger unless they had to. The unbroken view of cement wall,
the smell of antiseptic mixed with human urine, and the hollow eyes of patients for whom this would be the last stop ensured

For Albert C. Ward III, it was definitely not the last stop. This was his usual route—feigning a critical illness, approaching
death’s door when he felt the law closing in on him. The history Albert C. Ward III made wasn’t an achievement to be inscribed
on his tombstone when the time came. He wouldn’t make the record books. But still, he was a champion of something. Otherwise,
how could he have evaded law and justice for nearly two decades, not to mention evading me for longer than any other target
I’d ever chased? Well, he had come close.

The only available pictures of him, dating back to high school, were on my desk, at home, and even in my car. Ward was a wanted
man. Everyone was after him, including the FBI and the Office of Asset Recovery and Money Laundering of the U.S. Department
of Justice (with me their senior investigative
attorney). All of my life—three years at the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service, and the time spent earning my
Israeli and American law degrees—had been leading up to this. As an investigative attorney at DOJ, I’d been finding the money
launderers, the scammers, the con artists who made off with other people’s money and stashed it away in sunny, far-off places
and brought it back to the United States. Sometimes I also brought home the perpetrators. We called them absconders, targets,
or defendants; the tax havens of the world called them investors. Obviously there was an ongoing conflict between me, the
asset hunter, and these exotically located asset protectors. A better word would be
, or even
is a laundered word for stiff-upper-lip delegates at the UN.

We had long been at war with the money launderers and their guardians. And when you’re at war, you enlist the finest. As for
whether I fit into that category, well, you could ask any of the people who dealt with me professionally—that is, if you
could get into prison to find them. So although I had pity for the chameleon that was in Albert C. Ward III’s bed, I was still
awed by how he had managed to pull it off. Not once, not twice, but eleven times. And those were only the cases in which the
FBI had determined him to be the main suspect. Who knew how many others there had been?

“Mr. Ward,” I said. “I’m quite impressed with your display. But would you kindly stop the drama and talk to me?” His resistance
impelled me to try again.

“Here you go again,” he sighed. “I’m not Ward, my name is Herbert Goldman.” I noticed a slight accent when he pronounced the

“I need to rest, I don’t feel too well. You’ll have to excuse me.” He closed his eyes and turned his face to the wall. I stood
there for five more minutes until a nurse came in.

“Please, you are disturbing our patient,” she said, in a tone reserved for intruders aged ten and younger. I had thought Albert
C. Ward III was disturbing my patience.

The policeman looked bored as he sat there apparently not listening. He never said a word.

The cafeteria outside was just about to close for the day. There was only one other diner, a man with a protruding nose hair
noisily slurping a soup that even from a distance smelled like my socks after two weeks of basic training in the desert. I
was hungry, and meat loaf with potato pancakes seemed safe. But one bite was enough. The meat loaf was probably made of the
ass of an ass, and the potato pancakes tasted as if they had been fried in castor oil and lightly seasoned with sawdust. The
plate smelled of ammonia. I pushed the tray away. Even my voracious appetite had its limits. Anyway, it was time to write
my report on my meeting with Ward. My boss, David Stone, the director of the Office of Asset Recovery and Money Laundering,
was going to love it.

Walking to my hotel, I thought about how long I had waited to face Ward, how long I had mentally prepared what I would say
to him. But when the time had finally come, there had been no bombast, no fireworks. Just hollow emptiness. I wasn’t recognizing
yet that the battle wasn’t over, it had just begun.

It wasn’t just the anticlimax, I quickly realized. I was still disturbed by the meeting and didn’t quite know why. Something
just wasn’t sitting well.

I pulled out my cell phone and called Peter Maxwell, the curly-haired, easygoing Australian Federal Police agent assigned
to help me. I decided not to share with him the tinge of doubt I had.

“I think it’s him all right,” I told Peter. “Let’s wait for the U.S. Department of Justice to prepare the request for provisional
arrest with a view toward extradition. Meanwhile, just make sure he doesn’t leave the hospital until the request arrives.”

“He isn’t going anywhere, might,” said Peter.

“What do you mean, might?” I asked in a startled voice. “He could still leave?”

Peter, with his heavy Australian accent, had actually meant “mate.”

“I mean, we’ve a court order for the next twelve days on
local Australian fraud offenses. Until then, you’re safe, but the criminal division of the Justice Department better hurry.”

“What did he do this time?” I asked.

“Sold the same real-estate property to three different people,” said Maxwell, chuckling. “But the land wasn’t even his in
the first place.”

The next call was to David Stone in Washington, DC.

“David, I just saw the Chameleon.”

“Good. What’s the latest color?” David never was much for emotion. He could be elated, but he’d speak with the same tone of
a voice as if I’d told him it was sunny outside.

“Sick man, hospital bed. But David, it’s going to be harder this time for him to change it up. He gave me a show that unfortunately
won’t be coming to a movie theater near you. The hot part is that the Australians have him on unrelated charges.”

“We’re sure it’s him?”

“Pretty sure. The guy I saw matches Ward on seven points. Some physical, some circumstantial.”

“Only pretty sure?” asked David.

I hesitated. “There are a few things that are still holding me back,” I said. “He’s been calling himself Herbert Goldman.”

We talked over some procedural stuff, how the Australians would need to positively ID him before they’d extradite him.

“But that crap’s not the problem,” I said. “The Australian police can verify our ID information. Anyway, I’m after the money,
not the body.” I paused. “Any word on the U.S. request for his provisional arrest? We only have twelve days to get that provisional
arrest request here.”

He sighed. “Hold on. I need to take another call.”

A few minutes later, David came back on the line and told me that the FBI had just received a memo from the Australian Federal
Police that the suspect hadn’t been fingerprinted yet, because he was in the hospital.

“They didn’t?” I said. “Well, I think I can solve that problem.”

I waited until evening visiting hours to return. The corridor and the nurses’ station were empty, so it wasn’t hard to borrow
a plastic bag and a doctor’s white coat from a nearby closet. Ward was sound asleep and snoring. A policewoman read a newspaper
beside him. Nonchalantly, I slid one hand into the bag and, with my fingers protected by the plastic, picked up the empty
water cup from his side table. With my other hand I peeled the bag off and over the cup, enclosing it in the bag without adding
prints of my own, and walked away, returning the coat to its place. The policewoman didn’t even blink.

Peter Maxwell was sitting at his desk, rubbing his eyes over a pile of papers, when I arrived. I held out the plastic bag.
“Check the prints on the cup, and match it with the sample the FBI sent you. That’ll convince you.”

“Dan, I’m already convinced, but it may not be enough for the court. There could be an argument that this fingerprint evidence
was compromised.”

“That’s not for the court,” I said. “It’s for law-enforcement purposes. I’m afraid if there’s any doubt about his identity,
he’ll be let go even after the extradition request comes in. The prints on the cup will do for now.”

After a pause, Peter agreed. I’d liked him from the moment we’d met. He was a tall, brown-eyed, well-built man in his midthirties.
He was always smiling, willing to help, and never put bureaucratic obstacles where none were necessary. He also had that quirky,
uniquely Australian sense of humor that can inject levity even into the most serious circumstances. So can I. During one of
our conversations, somehow the subject of Jewish holidays came up. “Sounds mighty complicated, mate,” he said.

I smiled. “Not really. It can be summed up easily: Our enemies tried to destroy us. They couldn’t. We survived. Let’s eat.”

When I’d seen his toothy grin, I knew that he got it.

Back to Albert C. Ward III, now claiming to be Herbert Goldman. He had all the reasons in the world to fight extradition to
the United States. In fact, he had eleven good and solid reasons, each of them a case bundled neatly into an indictment.
He was on the line for ninety-eight counts of bank fraud, money laundering, grand larceny, and more.

We were all lucky that con men who thought they could outsmart the world usually made one mistake too many. Albert C. Ward
III’s mistake was trying to scam someone who didn’t deserve it. It was, indirectly, how I’d finally found him. I know I should
never trade luck for skill, but there are exceptions.

Sheila Levi was forty-one, with no special attributes. She wasn’t very pretty, or rich, or smart. But she was a nice woman,
and she’d had the misfortune to fall in love with Ward. Sheila had worked as a secretary in a small Sydney law firm and had
never married. Ward had charmed her, wined and dined her, and soon moved in with her to the one-bedroom apartment she’d bought
after years of saving every penny, taking a big mortgage.

The rest of the story was sadly predictable, as I realized when she met me for lunch the day after my frustrating hospital
interview with Ward. At his suggestion, she had taken a second mortgage on her apartment and given him the money to “invest
in their future.” She’d given him the jewelry she’d inherited from her grandmother, which he sold immediately. But Sheila
still had faith in him. Why?

“I wanted so much to marry and have a family,” she said, sobbing, sitting opposite me in the dining room of my Sydney hotel.
“He proposed marriage, and I believed him. My dream collapsed just a few hours before the wedding ceremony. How could I have
known that he was already married?”

I nodded sympathetically.

“I know it makes me sound stupid, but I really loved him and believed what he told me. That’s where I went wrong. Now I don’t
have him, and I don’t have my apartment. I couldn’t make the payments, and the bank foreclosed.”

“Where do you live now?”

“I share a rented room with a waitress I work with.”

“A waitress?”

“Yes,” she said faintly and apologetically, lowering her eyes. “I lost my job as well. My employers were sick of me being
distracted, and the creditor phone calls got out of hand. I’m waitressing now in two different restaurants.” She dried her
eyes. “Today is my day off.”

I felt mounting rage. Cheating banks out of their money was bad enough, but cheating a trusting woman who’d had almost nothing
to begin with and was then left with even less was appalling. But more than just that, something didn’t make sense. If Ward
had scammed millions from U.S. banks and investors over the years, why was it worth his while to scam a secretary out of something
as modest as her grandmother’s jewelry? Where had all that money gone?

BOOK: The Chameleon Conspiracy
11.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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